Patra Fish
60 Min

Patra Fish

Fish wrapped in banana or other leaves and steamed is common through India’s fish-eating communities. Bengalis wrap fish in a mustard marinade, and Parsi cooks marinate fish in an aromatic green chutney before steaming it in banana leaves. However, the fish can also be wrapped in edible leaves like mustard leaves, hoja santa, or fig leaves. When Islam was established in Persia (erstwhile Iran), Zoroastrian fire temples were destroyed and its followers faced religious persecution and were forced to leave their homeland. India, known for its religious tolerance and inclusivity, welcomed the refugees. A large contingent of Parsis were granted permission to land in Gujarat, thus founding the Parsi (Gujarati term for Persian) community in India. They assimilated into Indian culture and flourished under British colonial rule by showing an uncommon aptitude for Western education and sensibilities. They became the local titans of trade and commerce and used their tremendous influence to endow schools, colleges, and hospitals for the poor. 

Today, Mumbai is home to the largest Parsi population in the world. I spent most summers at the Mumbai home of a Parsi friend, Jena, where I experienced firsthand the interesting cuisine that had developed from combining Indian spices, herbs, and pulses with Persian luxuries like nuts and dried fruits. I would know we were having patra fish for dinner when the herby aroma of the green chutney and sounds of ritual grinding on the stone would waft up the stairway. Sometimes it was local kingfish, other times it was carp or mackerel. Any firm seasonal fish like snapper or halibut will do well, and while the recipe calls for either steaks or fillets, patra fish is traditionally made with thick fish steaks. If you are unable to locate banana leaf, use only parchment paper instead. 

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Cook Time

1 hour



To make the fish:
Step 1
Rub the fish with the salt and set aside.
To make the green masala:
Step 1
Discard the bottom 3 inches from the cilantro stems, rinse, and squeeze lightly to remove excess water. Roughly chop and set aside.
Step 2
Combine the mint, chile, ginger, garlic, coconut, garam masala, salt, lemon juice, and oil in a food processor and process until roughly chopped. Add the cilantro, a few stems at a time, and continue processing until the mixture is evenly chopped.
Step 3
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Place a shallow baking pan with hot water on the bottom rack of the oven (this will create steam in the oven). Make sure there is always water in this pan as the fish bakes.
Step 4
Pass the banana leaf piece over a hot gas flame or, using tongs, hold over an electric burner on high for a second or two to soften it. Lay the fish pieces over the center of the banana leaf. Spread enough marinade to coat the top generously and evenly. Flip the pieces over and repeat. Fold the leaf over like a package and cover the entire package in parchment paper. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until the fish is almost cooked through, then remove the fish from the oven and let it rest for 10 minutes. It will finish cooking during this time. Open the parchment package, garnish with grated coconut, and serve immediately.


2 whole fillets, or 6 to 8 steaks firm fish, weighing 11⁄2 to 2 pounds total 

1 teaspoon sea salt 


1 bunch cilantro, leaves and stems 

1 cup loose fresh mint leaves 

1 serrano chile 

2 tablespoons ginger puree

2 teaspoons minced garlic 

1⁄2 cup grated or chopped fresh coconut 

1 teaspoon garam masala

1⁄2 teaspoon sea salt 

Juice of 1 lemon 

1⁄4 cup olive oil 

1 large banana leaf

Grated fresh coconut for garnish 

60 Min

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